It happened fairly recently, at a housewarming I threw over Christmas. As the evening chatter mellowed, my friend strayed away from the group to nose around my work desk. Reading the magazine clippings and scraps of paper cluttering up my pinboard, she spotted a figure that looked familiar.
“Jenna Lyons!” she exclaimed. “She’s the one who left her husband for a woman, right?”
“She’s also credited with contributing to one of the most successful rebranding campaigns EVER,” I retaliated, bristling with indignation. “Not to mention she’s one of the most admired women in fashion!”
I didn’t know why at the time, but I felt hurt on behalf of my bespectacled muse. Looking back, I felt affronted at the way Lyons had been defined by her bedfellow; at the red flag held up against the perceived inconsistency of her relationships.
There was a time, not so long ago, when if you typed Jenna Lyons’ name into Google, you would come face to face with a murky search history relating to her “torrid lesbian relationship”, after she left her husband in October 2011 to be with Courtney Crangi.
Lyons weathered tabloid gossip with dignity. And at Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year awards in November, where she won the title of Fashion Original, she publicly thanked “Courtney, who’s shown me new love”.
Four years on, and society is coming around to the concept of sexual fluidity. Thanks in part to young women like Kristen Stewart, Cara Delevingne and Miley Cyrus refusing to label the terms of their love, and to public attitudes shifting in favour of LGBT acceptance, things feel freer than they were. Yet for an increasingly progressive society, the old labels used to classify four sexual identities and promote equal rights – heterosexual, gay, lesbian and bisexual – are still being stubbornly used to encompass a wider range of orientations.
The rise of fluidity has proved a positive social change for me, as I didn't feel the need to ‘come out’ when introducing my girlfriend to friends and family
Nowadays, with 33 openly gay MPs in the House of Commons and same-sex marriage in the UK finally bringing home formal legal equality, some say that coming out just isn’t a big deal. That doesn’t mean we can get complacent though. The visibility of those who reside in the grey areas of the sexuality spectrum – inhabiting multiple sexual identities, switching between them, and in some cases rejecting all labels completely – have yet to be normalised. Fluidity is a way to give form to those grey areas, embrace the range of romantic and sexual orientations that sit within it, and represent those who sit outside of the binaries. We just need to start recognising it.
Now that nearly a third of young people say their sexuality falls somewhere between heterosexual and homosexual, it’s clear that a new openness has come to characterise the nature of our attractions. And many friends who previously identified as gay or lesbian when I first met them at university have now adopted “fluid”, and are considerably happier for it.
The rise of fluidity has proved a positive social change for me, as I didn't feel the need to “come out” when introducing my girlfriend to friends and family. Granted, I have the support of a loving and tolerant gaggle who didn’t bat an eyelid when I first engineered a meet-up – firstly, to my sister at my birthday meal, who was decidedly more interested in cake than my relationship status; soon after to my mum, who plied her with home-cooking. But their exposure to a culture that has begun to accommodate a wider spectrum of attraction and desire has undoubtedly helped them process my relationship – without once ever asking me to pin down how it came about.
In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a need to come out. But for many, the act remains an ongoing process, because we live in a society where being straight and cisgendered is automatically assumed. It’s not by choice that you have to come out to the builder when he repeatedly enquires about your boyfriend, or come out when you state your next of kin at the doctor’s surgery. Sexuality is just one aspect of someone’s personality; and, nine times out of ten, bringing up the topic is simply a conscious decision not to censor your own life. Ultimately, it matters not how someone identifies, why they love or indeed whom they love. We’re made up of multitudes – let’s leave it at that.